Rokita’s new ‘Eyes on Education’ portal prompts pushback from Indiana school officials

Multiple districts indicated they were not made aware of submissions to the public portal — and that many documents are out of date.

By: - February 6, 2024 3:34 pm

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita unveiled his office’s new “Eyes on Education” transparency portal on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (Screenshot from X/Twitter video)

A new dashboard unveiled Tuesday by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office makes public more than two dozen allegations of “potentially inappropriate materials” in Hoosier schools, like critical race theory materials and gender identity policies. 

But numerous local officials told the Indiana Capital Chronicle they weren’t made aware of the complaints and contend the allegations were not properly vetted before the portal went live.

Attorney General Todd Rokita referred to “Eyes on Education” as a transparency tool that intends to “empower parents to further engage in their children’s education” and provide “real examples of indoctrination.”

The portal accepts submissions pertaining to K-12 classrooms, colleges, universities and “other affiliated academic entities in Indiana.” But it is unclear how, or if, they are vetting the accuracy of the allegations.

As of Tuesday afternoon, “Eyes on Education” listed complaints lodged against 13 public K-12 school districts, as well as Indiana University’s School of Medicine.

“As I travel the state, I regularly hear from students, parents and teachers about destructive curricula, policies or programs in our schools,” Rokita said in a statement, adding that the portal allows Hoosier parents to “view real examples of socialist indoctrination from classrooms across the state.” 

“Our kids need to focus on fundamental educational building blocks,” he continued, “NOT ideology that divides kids from their parents and normal society.”

It is disappointing that the Attorney General would take screenshots of social media comments and other claims made without context and publish them without additional research or verification.

– Stacy Conrad, spokesperson for Center Grove schools

Anyone — not just parents — can submit to the portal. An “education transparency form” asks submitters to give their name and contact information, as well as the school name and any associated documents.

The attorney general’s office said it will “follow up” using investigative tools like public records requests on materials submitted to the portal that may violate Indiana law. Those findings are supposed to be published on the portal, as well. 

But no such information has been made available yet, and at least twelve school districts named in the portal indicated to the Capital Chronicle on Tuesday they were unaware of the portal postings and had not been contacted by the attorney general’s office. 

At least nine districts said portal submissions were out of date or inaccurate. None of those responses are public on the portal.

Staff at the attorney general’s office acknowledged that some of the complaints on the portal are already years old, but maintained that “many” of the submissions came from educators and have merit.

Still, Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said “there are a lot of issues” with the portal and that it is outside of the attorney general’s purview. He emphasized, too, that Rokita is “causing enormous problems for people — and he’s interfering with the normal political process.”

“If there’s someone in those school districts who’s unhappy, they should be encouraged to go to the authorities in that school district. (Rokita) does not have a roving policy to investigate anything that he thinks is wrong. I just think he’s way out of bounds. And he’s raising First Amendment problems,” said DeLaney, an attorney. “To stir up controversy, seek to create lawsuits — he’s supposed to defend lawsuits or bring them as needed, not go around trolling for lawsuits. There are privacy issues.”

School officials say they weren’t contacted

“Eyes on Education” lists school corporations and associated documents in list form. The portal does not say who submitted each piece of information or when it was received by the attorney general’s office, but some posted documents include names, addresses and other contact details for submitters, possibly inadvertently.

A news release indicated that upon submission, someone from the attorney general’s office “may contact” submitters “for additional information or clarification.”

As long as the submitter’s identity checks out — and Rokita’s office is confident the documents are from the indicated school — documents are made public. It’s up to schools to contact the attorney general after that. The portal will be updated with those responses, too, according to the office.

Some of the examples — such as a quiz about conservative and liberal views  — don’t specify the precise school on the document itself.  Another picture purports to a be a photo of a Black Lives Matter flag in a school but there is no proof included.

A submission to the “Eyes on Education” portal allegedly depicts a “BLM Black Pride-LBGTQ Pride Flag” displayed in a district school. (Photo from the Eyes on Education portal)

Another example live on the portal is a gender support plan from the Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation, which includes policies around privacy, confidentiality, preferred pronouns and restroom use for transgender students.

Clark-Pleasant spokesperson Rick Hightower told the Capital Chronicle that policy is out of date and is no longer in effect, however. 

“I am disappointed in the release of this incorrect information and the fact that no one from the Attorney General’s office reached out to us to verify this information.  Please confirm receipt of this email and confirm that this error has been corrected,” said district superintendent Tim Edsell told Rokita’s office in an email, provided to the Capital Chronicle.

Hightower said Rokita’s office has since indicated it was “removing the inaccurate information.” 

Other submissions on the portal make complaints about discussions and activities around “privilege” and critical race theory in Noblesville schools. 

Spokesperson Marnie Cooke said the district was “not aware of the site until this morning and were not given an opportunity to discuss it with the AG’s office.” She noted the examples listed are “old” and “not in use.”

“For example, one document shows someone who was a volunteer community speaker in 2018. He presented content that was not appropriately vetted by us and we apologized to families at the time,” Cooke said. “Another item is from an employee who is no longer with Noblesville Schools and the third example is also not in use.”

Paul White, superintendent at New Prairie United Schools, said the district was not notified that a complaint was made about its “gender support plan” — a document White said “is not accurate.”

He shared his response to Rokita’s office with the Capital Chronicle:

Eyes on Education Response-New Prairie

 

Carmel Clay Schools spokesperson Emily Bauer said her district also was not previously notified regarding the attorney general’s new portal “or asked to confirm the validity of submitted screenshots.”

“Multiple documents clearly originated from a now-defunct outside special interest group, and others appear to be online quizzes with no additional context provided. As a tool for purported transparency, it is irresponsible to portray these screenshots as curriculum, as CCS follows the Indiana State Standards,” Bauer said. “While the state is facing an unprecedented teacher shortage, we hope all governing agencies will continue to support the teaching profession and create a positive and welcoming environment for current and future Indiana educators.”

Center Grove spokesperson Stacy Conrad added, “It is disappointing that the Attorney General would take screenshots of social media comments and other claims made without context and publish them without additional research or verification.” She said the claims that were shared with administrators “are from three years ago and were addressed appropriately at that time.”

And in Martinsville, superintendent Eric Bowlen said theEyes on Education” portal “does not reflect what the district teaches students. Instead, the posting suggests that the district endorses radical gender identity curriculum, which is reckless and inaccurate. Furthermore, the posting lacks context and clarity.”

Other school officials said they had no clear path to clarify or correct information with the attorney general. Rokita’s office said schools can respond to what’s in the portal by emailing [email protected]

Rokita’s “parental rights” promise

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana said Tuesday the portal is a way to “report schools teaching important racial equity and LGBTQ topics, in an effort to intimidate teachers from discussing these issues with students.

“Classroom inclusivity benefits everyone,” the organization added. “Classroom censorship does nothing but harm.”

In an interview with the Daily Signal, Rokita said all entries to the online portal would be vetted, and “rumor mill” submissions will not make it to publication.

“We deal with very complex, complicated professional licensing issues, so to speak, and ten(s) of thousands of other cases per year,” Rokita told the Daily Signal. “We can get to the root of a liar — of a fake — pretty easy. But really it’s also for self-policing.”

The Republican attorney general additionally said his office would post only primary documents and verified material, letters, and policies from the schools in question.

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But at least one section on I.U. School of Medicine Dean Jay Hess includes unsubstantiated hearsay by the person who submitted the information accusing Hess of pushing diversity and equity. For instance, “Per an IU Sch of Med employee, he has stated that he wants the IU Sch of Med to lead the way in the country pushing these agendas.”

Another section of that document includes speculation on “proposed actions/legislation I have heard as possibilities.”

Since 2021, Rokita has published multiple iterations of his so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which he says helps inform Hoosier parents about their rights related to education. Sections of the document deal with vaccinations, private school vouchers and religious expression, among other topics.

His office said the new portal continues the parental empowerment mission.

“We not only want to help empower parents,” Rokita said. “We also want to help empower excellent educators. In some cases, district bureaucrats suppress the conscientious efforts of caring and well-qualified teachers. Our portal is a place where educators, too, can submit examples of materials they find objectionable.”

But DeLaney said Rokita’s new portal uses state resources and creates questions concerning libel and defamation.

“He is the attorney general. He is not the governor, and he is not the Secretary of Education,” he said. “Yeah, he’s really poaching on their territory.”

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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.

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